Sunday, January 29, 2012

Post 238

This is a brief note from your faithful blog editor and scribe... Hard to believe today's service was blog post 237. How time flies!

We often take so much for granted, but I never take it for granted when someone thanks me for producing these blogs entries week after week. If there's a missing sermon it is only because I was out of town on business or, infrequently, indisposed.

This thought made me realize that there are a lot of people in our church family doing far more than this, and we need to thank them. Sunday school staff, board members, committee folk, Leonard for all his wonderful meals, Darlene's incredible dedication to making the music we cherish and sing to, and to so many others... and special thanks to Brad and Brooke, not only for their faithful service but for their constant admonitions to reach out to the needy in our community and look beyond our comfort zones.

Thank you to everyone in our church family who has so helped to make us feel at home here in this very special place. Good things are happening. Don't take it for granted.

EdNote: If you wish to receive our church blog in your email inbox there are a limited number of slots available and I can get you listed. Also, we have now set this blog up to accept comments, so feel free to post your thoughts, even if anonymous.

Living In God For the World

Pastor Brad began the service by bringing up a fragment from a discussion that occurred in one of our adult Sunday school classes that convenes in the hour before church. They had touched upon the manner in which sometimes wrestle with doubts about many things. Brad used this notion to make the strongest affirmation he could possibly make that he has no doubts whatsoever about this: "I am delighted to be here with you. I am so grateful to be with this community of faith."

Many announcements followed this pronouncement.
1. Keep praying for our building committee as the work hard on the plans that have been moving forward.
2. Brad will be at the annual Pastor's Conference this week. Despite his absence Wednesday evening the midweek small group should continue to meet.
3. Cheryl Borndal shared that it is not too early to begin thinking of summer camp plans. Early registration (which means savings) ends March 1.
4. Elsa shared that there will be a Super Bowl party for the youth next Sunday here at the church. Even if you're not into football there will be other activities. Join us.
5. Elsa also mentioned that we will be fund raising to send four youth to the Nation CHIC gathering this year.
6.Paula Saxin noted that there will be a women's event in March called Uniquely You. Mark the 23rd and 24th on your calendars. More information to come.

The quartet led us into worship with two songs this morning, "Somebody Touched Me" and "Just a Little Talk With Jesus." This was followed by several songs with the congregation and a little time of greeting our neighbors before getting seated again. The taking of tithes and offerings and the reading of Mark 1:21-28 preceded our time of prayer for the needs of the church family.

Living In God For the World

The first portion of the message was a summary of the past several messages about the Lord's encounter with the woman at the well and the events surrounding that fateful meeting as recorded in John 4. Jesus was in the habit of breaking social rules as he reached out across the barriers that divide.

When Jesus said He could give her water so she'd never thirst again, she understood that this was no ordinary man. As she ran into town telling others about Him, she repeated, "Could this be the Messiah?"

Brad paused and pointed out that our relationship with God can begin with just a simple earnest question like that... "Could this be...?" Could this be God speaking to me? Could this be a turning point in my life?

He then shared a letter from a prison inmate. The painfulness and hardship saturated the letter, but the man summed up, "I can see light at the end of the tunnel because of my faith."

When your truth gets hooked up with God's truth, this is the formula for freedom.

Brad highlighted other points in this story. Jesus ended up alone with this woman in a public place because the disciples had gone into town to get food. When they got back they urged Him to eat, but he said, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." This only made them confused so he added, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and finish His work."

Jesus was nourished from within.

Pastor Brad talked about this inner life a bit. "Is living water flowing out of you? Is joy flowing out of you? Hope? Peace? Kindness?" He compared our hearts to a tube of toothpaste. When you're squeezed, what on the inside is what will come out. As Jesus explained in Matthew 12:34-35, "For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him."

The opening lines of Psalm 42 reveal what was in David's heart.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

When our souls pant for God, He fills us up.

All too often as Christians we try to live for God in the world, but the equation should be written differently. We should be living in God for the world.

Jesus says in John 15, "I am the vine and you are the branches..." Our responsibility is to stay connected to the vine, stay thirsty for God. He will fill you up and keep you going. Let your roots go deep in Him.

Brad closed the sermon by stating, "My prayer is that your buckets will be full."

After a closing hymn we proceeded to share the breaking of bread in a communion service using the intinction method. (Intinction is the Eucharistic practice of partly dipping the consecrated bread into the consecrated wine before consumption by the communicant.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Leaving Our Water Jar Behind

The harsh chill of the past few days let up and our day began with above zero weather out in this neck of the woods. Pastor Shannon's warm welcome helped defrost any chill left over from the past few days.

The theme of these several weeks was highlighted in his opening remarks. We're studying the story in John 4 about the Lord's encounter with the woman at the well. The message today would be about surrender.

The one important announcement today was with regard to next Sunday. Susie and Gwen, with the youth of the church, will be doing some painting to liven up the Sunday School rooms. Think fun, food, friends, bright-colored paint and hippie art! Bring a bag lunch and a change of clothes. Snacks will be provided.

Ed Newman played an introit on the piano to lead us into worship, which was led by Brad and Elsa this morning. Leonard read from Mark 1:14-20 after the offertory. We then presented our needs in prayer to the creator and sustainer of the universe.

Leaving Our Water Jar Behind

Brad began by giving a re-cap of last week's highlights. It was a remarkable situation, Jesus breaking barriers not only by talking to a woman, but also a Samaritan woman with a shady reputation. She's come at mid-day to get water, but after an introductory exchange Jesus points out that drinking from this well will leave you thirsty again, but "I can give you living water," He says.

Then, He goes past the external surface of things and drills into her deeper situation, speaking very directly. It's our tendency to spend (or waste) a lot of energy trying to conceal our secrets. Jesus directs the conversation toward unburying the truth, getting down to the heart of the matter.

Once the truth comes out, many people feel a great sense of relief. For this reason Brad directed us to I John 1:7-10 which talks about confessing our sins and walking in the light. We were all urged to go before God to unburden ourselves in this way. But it can also be very healing to find someone we can trust to share our struggles with and confess our sins. As verse nine in this passage states, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Returning to the story, we find that after Jesus revealed to the woman who He was, she left her water jar to head back into town to tell people about Jesus. Brad asked what our water jar was? What is it that we're doing that we need to leave behind? Is it the intoxication of thrilling work? Pleasure? Addictions of one kind or another?

Brad invited Duayne Anderson and Gwen Cressman to take seats in front of the congregation to be interviewed regarding their various paths from childhood to following Christ. Gwen shared how she was raised by parents who were missionaries in Cameroon. She remembers life in the bush and seeing her father preach the Gospel. Duayne shared that his parents were not church-goers, but his mom and dad modeled Christian values. They sent him to Sunday school. Even though his parents didn't attend themselves, he knew they were believers. He later went to youth group at Westminster Presbyterian.

Brad asked, "Was there a time in your life when you made a decision to follow Jesus?"

Gwen described her difficult year at a boarding school while in third grade. Yet it was during this time she came to understand that, "Jesus will never leave me or forsake me."

Duayne explained how the seeds that were planted while younger resulted in his being baptized later with his wife Cindy. Duayne mentioned something about failures, but "Christ has always been there for me."

Brad then asked, "Is there an area of surrender that is a struggle?"

Gwen shared how there have been seasons in her life. She said the Lord has revealed many things at various times. She's been learning not only how to speak up but when not to speak. Duayne commented on his failing each day in some ways and that surrender has to be daily. He said the hardest thing is learning to let go... forgiveness.

Brad noted some of the common themes in their stories. Then said, "What the world has to offer will not quench our thirst. Surrender is a lifelong journey. The woman at the well had to surrender if she was to receive living water.

The new path is not a quick drink. The Greek word used in this phrase is "a perpetual fountain... once for all and forever."

A quote from Malcolm Muggeridge provided a fitting summing up:
"I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets—that's fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue—that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions—that's pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time—that's fulfillment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing—less than nothing, a positive impediment—measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the refreshment of drinking that water?"

After meeting Jesus, the woman at the well ran back into town saying, "Come, see a man who told me everything I did!" She was stunned not because He knew her, but because He knew her and still offered her living water.

In closing, Brad said, "God knows your story, and He loves you still."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bucket List

It began with the usual "Good morning." Brad immediately followed with, "I'm grateful you're here." The theme this next several weeks would revolve around insights gleaned from the story in John 4 where Jesus encounters a woman at the well.

Announcements to be aware of:
Tuesday there will be a board meeting and the capital campaign committee will address our current progress with the new building project.
Thursday there will be a service at Edgewood Vista at 7:00 p.m. Look for us at Entrance 11.
Joanne shared that the Secret Sisters were revealed this past week. We will be doing the Secret Sisters again in 2011. See Joanne for details.

Darlene's introit led us into a time of worship led by the trio of Chuck, Ken and Darlene. But first, after Chuck read the passage from Mark 4 where Jesus calmed a storm, they sang a moving rendition of "Master of the Wind." Another song today carried the theme, "Keep me in Your will so I won't be in Your way."

An offering was taken, followed by a time of prayer leading into the message.

Bucket List

Brad began by mentioning that he'd intended to bring a handpump well to set next to the pulpit to illustrate his theme over the next several weeks. The message began with an overview of John 4, essentially touching on several highlights from this memorable story.

Brad began with vss. 1-3 which sets up the story by noting the reason why Jesus was heading back to Galilee. In typical understatement, verse four states, "Now He had to go through Samaria." In point of fact, the Jews of Jesus' day did nearly anything they could to circumvent Samaria and there were plenty of alternate routes to avoid having to go through Samaria. The Samarians were half breed second-class citizens. Their religion was also different, though they did embrace the Pentateuch as sacred. Jesus was always breaking down barriers and in this story He behaves no differently.

"Jacob's well was there," John records in verse six. This landmark well is still there, is 138 feet deep and still functional. Jesus was tired from the journey, so He sat by the well and sent His disciples into town to get food.

The statement appears simple but again is loaded with insights. First, the fact of Jesus' tiredness shows his humanity. Despite being God, the Lord laid aside his divinity to become fully human with its limitations so that He would be hot, cold, and tired after a journey like all of us.

It was midday and a woman came to the well to draw water. Brad pointed out that the typical time to draw water would be the beginning or end of the day. Midday was a well's least busy time, but if a person who was interested in avoiding contact with others they might choose this hour of the day to draw water.

Upon her arrival Jesus asks her for a drink. This kind of question was not normal. First, Jews did not talk to Samaritans. Men did not talk to women. But Jesus was, as noted, all about breaking down barriers.

Brad noted that we live in a transactional society. In other words, much of our dialogue revolves around people getting something in exchange for something. Jesus, however, asks us to follow Him and become an interaction society. We interact not to get, but to dialogue and to give, to affirm one another as people, not just use them.

The woman's responses to Jesus during the exchange that followed seems to reveal that the woman had a certain amount of attitude. At a certain point He tells her to go get her husband. When she says she has no husband, He states that she has had five husbands and the man she lives with now is not her husband.

Brad pointed out how she then changed the subject to a new topic: religion.

But eventually even religion will leave you empty. Religion is not about where you worship or places or mountains or temples. It's about truth. And by the end of this story Jesus makes a rare self-revelation, that He is indeed the Messiah.

After summarizing the story Brad asked, "What causes emptiness?" He answered by sharing an anecdote about kids playing. Imagine a boy playing a video game that has obstacles. The younger or least experienced player is stuck. The other says, "Avoid that and go here." Instead of advice it comes across as one kid telling the other what to do. The younger boy snaps, "You're not the boss of me."

This is exactly how we end up empty ourselves, when we say to God, "You're not the boss of me."

Brad then read to us Psalm 32:8-10 from The Message.

8 Let me give you some good advice;
I'm looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:

9 "Don't be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track."

10 God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.

When we say to God, "You're not the boss of me," it's only trouble for us. Letting Him be boss is the only satisfying life. The first verses of Psalm 32 offer an antidote.

1 Blessed is the one whose lawless acts are forgiven.
His sins have been taken away.
2 Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord never counts against him.
He doesn't want to cheat anyone.
3 When I kept silent about my sin,
my body became weak
because I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night
your heavy hand punished me.
I became weaker and weaker
as I do in the heat of summer.

5 Then I admitted my sin to you.
I didn't cover up the wrong I had done.
I said, "I will admit my lawless acts to the Lord."
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Unresolved guilt morphs into shame. Shame leaves us disconnected from community. Guilt is what we experience for our actions, for what we do. Shame is what we experience for who we are.

16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.

Do you remember the children's song, "There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza?" This is the real problem for most of us, except instead of our bucket there's a hole in our hearts. Solomon tried everything to fill that hole, as we read in the book of Ecclesiastes. But in the end, everything this world has to give, everything he tried to fill his heart with ended up falling through. Everything proved meaningless.

As Jeremiah wrote...

13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Broken cisterns... broken wells... broken hearts. Solomon ends the book of Ecclesiastes with a single conclusion: The hole in your heart can only be filled by God.

Psalm 107:9 affirms, "God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things."

Isaiah 55:1-3 is an invitation to all who are thirsty.

1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.

Jesus, in His sermon on the Mount, offers hope to all. There are no barriers. Blessed are the empty, blessed are the spiritually busted.

The invitation is to all. As it is written in Revelation 22:17

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.